Back to a location resonant in my lifetime, but not my children’s, we then visited Tiananmen Square. Under the huge portrait of Mao Zedong, marking the spot where he proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, I explained about the student protests of 1989 and we talked about freedom of the press, the fact that they couldn’t use Instagram or Snapchat (but thank goodness, they could get WhatsApp) on their phones here, and why.
Shanghai wowed us with its futuristic skyline, designer shops and skyscraper hotels
If it was the old that impressed in Beijing, it was the new that wowed in Shanghai, with its futuristic skyline, bright lights, designer shops and skyscraper hotels (right). My daughter loved the view from the bath at the Puli hotel, which meant that she could look down on the whole twinkling city from a serious height. My son loved the city’s famous xiaolongbao, as did we all. These melt-in-the-mouth pork-filled dumplings are addictive and called for many a stop as we wandered, each time reminding me of that Chinese saying, “Food is heaven”.
And heaven-bound we were, for our next destination took us, by way of a bullet train, just 40 minutes from Shanghai to Hangzhou, which Marco Polo called “the City of Heaven, the most magnificent in the entire world”. One of the seven ancient capitals of China, it is beautiful indeed, with its huge West Lake, lined with delicate willows and lotus blossoms and crossed with moon bridges.
Even better though was heading out to the surrounding hills to see the tea fields. Dragon Well or Longjing green tea is considered one of the country’s best teas, with an extraordinarily delicate flavour. We were given a lesson in how to make it at the Amanfayun, once a tea-pickers’ village, now housing a luxurious hotel. Rooms are in ancient wooden houses, with latticework screens and decorative calligraphy. Our Tea Master explained how to warm the pot and cups, how the water should not, for green tea, be boiling, and how 1-2 minutes is enough brewing time to achieve the perfect cup.
The children loved the tea and the lesson, so when we flew to Lijiang in Yunnan, our final stop, we went straight to Fu Xing Chang Tea House, a beautiful old courtyard house renowned as an excellent place for Pu’er tea. This is very different in taste but equally delicate, and we were fascinated by the packaging of the tea into hard round discs, a reminder that we were on the ancient Tea Horse Road, along which tea was transported to Tibet on the backs of horses.
The town of Lijiang is beautiful, with old cobbled streets lined with artisans at work. It’s home to the Naxi people, whose dress of upper blue garments to represent the night, lower white for the daylight, and circles recalling the stars, is eye-catching. But I think my son will remember them most for the tender yak meat we had in a Naxi restaurant in a little village called Baisha, some six miles north of Lijiang. And my daughter? She will never forget that in the Naxi language, nouns become superlative when the word female is added. It seems the more she explores this country, the more it suits her.
Call Scott Dunn on 020 8682 5030 to arrange your tailor-made holiday to China
Images: Getty Images, Corbis